Tuesday, 5 July, 2022
E-paper

Delhi suffers at 49C as heatwave sweeps India

An intense heatwave is sweeping through northern India with temperatures hitting a record 49.2C (120.5F) in parts of the capital, Delhi.

This is the fifth heatwave in the capital since March.

Officials in many parts of the country have asked people to take precautions as temperatures are set to remain high.

They warned the heat could cause health concerns for the vulnerable, including infants, the elderly and people with chronic diseases.

The states of Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Punjab, and Bihar have particularly witnessed soaring temperatures in the past few days, India's weather department said.

It added that temperatures are likely to fall by 2-4C in some areas but there may not be any respite from intense heat.
Severe heatwaves have thrown millions of lives and livelihoods out of gear in northern India this summer.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked state chief ministers to draw up plans to mitigate the impact of extreme heat as temperatures rose faster than usual.

While heatwaves are common in India, especially in May and June, summer began early this year with high temperatures from March, when the first heatwave arrived.

Average maximum temperatures for the month were the highest in 122 years.

The Centre for Science and Environment, a think-tank, says that early heatwaves this year have affected around 15 states, including the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, usually known for its pleasant temperatures.

Naresh Kumar, a senior scientist at the India Meteorological Department (IMD), attributes the current heatwave to local atmospheric factors.

The major one was weak western disturbances - storms originating in the Mediterranean region - which meant little pre-monsoon rainfall in north-western and central India. Anticyclones - an area of high atmospheric pressure where the air sinks - also led to hot, dry weather over parts of western India in March.

The effects are visible. Farmers say the unexpected temperature spikes have affected their wheat harvest, a development that could potentially have global consequences given supply disruptions due to the Ukraine war.

The heat has also triggered an increase in power demand, leading to outages in many states and fears of a coal shortage.

Mr Modi also flagged the increased risk of fires due to rising temperatures.

Summers have always been gruelling in many parts of India - especially in the northern and central regions. Even before air-conditioners and water coolers started selling in the millions, people had devised their own ways of coping with the heat - from keeping water cool in earthen jugs to rubbing raw mangoes on their bodies to ward off heat strokes.

But many experts say India is now recording more intense, frequent heatwaves that are also longer in duration.

Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, agrees that several atmospheric factors have led to the current heatwave. But adding to all that, he says, is global warming.

"That's the root cause for the increase in heatwaves," he says, adding that more research is needed to link climate change to other, less extreme weather fluctuations.